Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Keeping a Calm Space

This morning, as I caught up on e-mails, I listened to this wonderful Fresh Air interview with hospice chaplain Kerry Egan. 

Interviewer Terry Gross says, "You write about how about one of the things you want to do is hold open a space of prayer or meditation or reflection when someone doesn't have the energy or strength to keep the walls from collapsing."

It occurs to me that many of our jobs require much the same thing, but of course, in a very different way than that of the hospice chaplain.  In other settings, we hold open this space much more silently.

A bit later, Egan says, "And what it really means is to model a sense of in the midst of this storm of emotion, you can stay calm, right? It does not have to overtake you. And you would be surprised at how powerful that is for someone else, just to be with someone who is maintaining a sense of presence, of not being in the past, of not being in the future, of literally being present, you know, in the presence. But that has a way of calming people down."

Yes, modeling calm behavior--another way of keeping the walls from collapsing. 

Each time I have dealt with an upset person (often a student), I have tried to model this calm behavior--while at the same time wondering how people get through life with such a hair-trigger outrage response.  I have wondered if people have changed, if I'm just coming in contact with more stressed out people, if once I hung out with a more laid-back bunch.

I know that my new job will require much more peace-making, at least at certain times.  In my old job, I saw myself as the protector of faculty when my dean often automatically took the side of the student who was outraged.  Now I will need to be sure that students are reassured that I am looking into their complaints, while also not giving the signal that every complaint is valid.

So far, the new job revolves more around paper than humans.  One of my tasks this week has been to sort out the office--my predecessor was the type who printed everything, so there's lots of paper to be looked at.  The faculty files are both in better and worse shape than I was expecting--some forms are there, but without signatures, for example.  Some files have lots of observations, and some have no observations at all--is it because they have only been teaching on and off , or did they slip through the cracks?

I am enjoying having big windows.  I haven't had windows in years, and for the past few years, I've had no window at all.   Because of relentless construction, most of the windows at the main building of my old job looked out onto concrete walls. 

Yesterday, although I'm only on the second floor, I watched the clouds skitter across the blue sky.  I could see the tops of palm trees swaying.  If I looked directly out the window, I saw the transmission place, but if I looked up, I got an enormously calming view.

I see it as a good omen.

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